HMRC has launched its first live API feed that allows accountants to check their clients’ marriage allowance status, with more planned in the coming months.
HMRC released the marriage allowance API feed on 20 October, and will release more covering areas such as Class 2 NI liability soon, with other data for self-assessment and PAYE purposes likely to be available from March of next year.
The feed is split into two separate APIs. The first one checks the current marriage allowance status of the taxpayer. The second one verifies whether the taxpayer is eligible to transfer their personal allowance.
Under HMRC’s system, the accountant enters their government gateway user ID and password the first time they use the API. HMRC will then authorise the application, and the accountant can then access the marriage allowance for that client where a 64-8 is in place.
Matt Bailey, founder of GBooks, who incorporated the API feed into its individual tax module shortly after the release, explains that these APIs will allow accountants to pre-populate certain areas of the tax return rather than getting information from the client.
"API feeds can potentially help accountants obtain relevant data or double-check the information already provided by the client", he said.
"Clients are human and can either provide the wrong figures or forget some things entirely. So accessing the data HMRC holds about a client could be a very good way of double-checking figures and completing the tax return more accurately."
"In the longer term", Bailey continued, "HMRC is trying to get to a point where the most common parts of a tax return are pre-populated using these API feeds. Taxpayers with simple tax affairs will then just need to click a button to confirm this HMRC data is correct."
Marriage allowance has been branded a “flop” by Labour ministers due to its poor uptake, but Bailey suggested that the API will make it easier for the client to claim because accountants will be able to access data held on HMRC's system quickly and easily, including any claim already made for the year the accountant may not be aware of.
Although the API relies on just the accountant logging in using their gateway information, HMRC plans on releasing two-step verification with future releases. Bailey believes HMRC’s approach to its two step authentication will be an important factor in whether future APIs will become popular. “If you have to rely on a client doing something to authorise an API feed it will lead to delays", said Bailey.
HMRC is pressing ahead with their API plans. One API in the pipeline is a tax summary for the year, which will provide information about any state benefits that the taxpayer has received throughout the year. “HMRC is dipping its toe into the water with the Marriage Allowance feed, but substantially more data will hopefully be available over the coming months,” added Bailey.
This first instance of HMRC’s “open API” approach is the result of the department’s commitment to cloud platforms and data sharing. Given the difficulties that have cropped up in the past with other kinds of data transfer - massive duplication of mismatched PAYE records and continuing concerns about the quality of data fed from HMRC into the universal credit computers spring to mind - APIs may achieve something that has eluded a generation of government programmers.
APIs aren’t just making in-roads within government. AccountingWEB’s recent Practice Excellence Live “virtual conference” included a technology trend-spotting session that devoted some attention to APIs. During this session, Sage’s global product marketing manager Fabiola Stein explained how an EU open banking API directive set for implementation in 2019 is likely to transform the way bank feeds are handled within accounting software. There are still a lot of details to sort out before the deadline, but if the initiative is a success, the bureaucratic, batch process that currently exists will be replaced by online, real-time data feeds.